I had hoped to provide a feast of images to illustrate Rapha’s third annual Hell of the North ride yesterday; but in the event I was too busy hanging on to both wheels and my own handlebars. Wheels, because my instinct is always to ride just that little bit faster than I’m capable of sustaining, so hopping from group to group involved shameless wheelsucking on arrival at each.
It transpired that wheelsucking would become a story across the channel in the Infer itself, as Cancellara berated Directeur Sportiv Jonathon Vaughters of Garmin-C through the window of his team car, for the shamelessly parasitical tactics of Thor Hushovd as he sat on for his free tow to (as he hoped) an easy sprint win at the finish. I imagine he was saying something like ‘World Champions have to ride!’ or words to that effect. Sadly, Thor’s stock has gone down in many books this weekend. It’s the opposite to what happened to Cadel…
The Rapha ride through the lanes and woods of Hertforshire necessitated hanging onto handlebars as the riding surface went from deep gravel, to rock-strewn building-site access road, to twisty technical singletrack, to ploughed up dried magma in convoluted folds, to mud. The Peregrine was superb throughout, its wide bars providing the perfect steering, tyres gobbling up everything in its path, its planetary weight ensuring grip and stability, even if that same weight provided its own challenges on the road sections of the 53 mile course. Lowell was riding his Cotic, fixed, with CX tyres and had a blast. The first descent on the rough stuff caused him some concern, not having a freewheel, but after that there was no holding him back. Many a rider he passed had time to gasp, ‘is that a fixed?! Chapeau!’ before Lowell pulled away with his effortless style and that faint creaking sound that follows his bikes around (is it Physics, complaining that her laws are being flouted?)
Chapeau too to Paul, also Peregrine’d, riding his first plus 50 miler and proving again what a superb rider he’d be if he ever did any miles. He dropped back a few times, but was never too far behind. The lad’s got talent. He’d pitched up with a friend from work, PJ, a good guy in a Fireflies jersey on a titanium Litespeed.
Arriving at the pub, somewhere in Barnet, sun blazing, our efforts to finish in the top half of the field meant we had the luxury of chairs in which to enjoy our beer and frites, complements of Rapha. Surrounded by their Kentish Town Pink on flags, posters, flyers, jerseys, we happily watched the race unfold on the screen: booing Hushovd, wincing for Boonen and Chavanel, cheering Fabu’s superhuman attacks, finally pedalling with Van Summeren as he held on to his spindly breakaway for a glorious win. The tallest, skinniest winner since Coppi, it was a victory for ectomorphs the world over.
Post Script… Met Gem Atkinson (www.bianchista.blogspot.com) who would like to do a story on the crazy brave for her site. Anytime, we said.